Published in Viewpoint, October 1, 2010
Masood Ashraf Raja
I write these lines in solidarity with Farooq Sulehria, who recently published a well-argued open letter to Maulana Tariq Jameel (A letter to Maulana Tariq Jameel). My response is prompted more by the vitriolic comments of the so-called “Muslim” respondents to this article by the author, but my discussion is framed in my understanding of the idea of a just God in the Islamic as well as other traditions.
This image of a wrathful God who punishes the wicked and the sinful in an act of collective punishment is not only specific to the Muslim Ulama. In fact, here in the United States Pat Robertson is on record for having suggested that the recent floods in Haiti were a direct result of Haiti’s “pact with the devil” during their fight for independence.
What I fail to understand, and people like Maulana Tariq Jameel never really address this questions, is as to how do they reconcile this idea of a wrathful God, capable of destroying thousands of lives, with another basic belief that the Islamic God is, after all, a just God?
We all understand the concept of justice in the Sharia; its one guiding principle is that you can only punish the one proven to be guilty of a crime to the degree of punishment allowed or permissible. If one were to suggest even to an average lay Muslim that it is permissible to hang the brother of murderer instead of the murderer if the latter cannot be found, they will, without even a single moment of hesitance, inform us that such action would be unjust. The lay Muslims have this belief because in their cultural memory and the structuring of their sense of Justice, punishing someone for a crime that he/ she ahs not committed is unquestionably unjust. The Ulama would also state the same if asked to answer this hypothetical question.
Now, if we do agree that the Muslim God is a just God, we can suggest that a just deity would only punish those who are responsible for the sins that need to be punished. Thus, the idea of a God displacing and killing thousands of people to punish the “corrupt” rulers can only be sustained if we accept that the God that we are talking about is unjust, or, at the least, capricious. But since this assertion about God is completely unsustainable, God being Just, then any claims in his name to justify natural tragedies as a collective punishment is not only wrong but also a disservice to the Islamic concept of justice.
Furthermore, if the floods were a direct consequence of the actions of a corrupt government, then why didn’t such a calamity visit the halls of Pakistani power? As far as I know, all the so-called corrupt politicians are pretty safe and it is only the Pakistani poor who have suffered heavily in these floods. Is the Maulana suggesting that the almighty God, who is also just, lacks the kind of precision technology to specifically target those responsible for His wrath?
Statements such as the Maulana’s have no theological worth and they tend to transport the causes of natural disaster to the realm of the metaphysical thus displacing the blame from those responsible—the Pakistani timber mafia in this case—while blaming the victims. Instead of making these lofty and unfounded pronouncements, the Maulana and his followers should have been at the forefront of relief effort, helping the helpless and the poor.
In conclusion I would just like to add: stop blaming the victims in the name of God; it insults those injured in this calamity and makes God seem capricious and unjust.